Before 1935, urban areas throughout the U.S. had become electrified by privately owned utility companies, which were well rewarded for their investment in electricity delivery infrastructure. However, these private utilities did not extend electric delivery to rural areas because there would have been an inadequate return on investment. To address this problem, in 1935, President Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (“REA”), which was statutorily ratified by Congress in 1936.
The purpose of the REA was to expand electricity delivery to rural areas throughout the country, including central New York, by subsidizing electricity providers, including co-ops such as Otsego Electric, still today commonly referred to as REA.
The federal REA was a huge success, resulting in the electrification of rural areas that otherwise might never have been served by the private sector.
Let’s learn from history. Today, broadband Internet and cell service are about where electrification was then. Our urban areas are well-served, but our rural areas, including large parts of Otsego County, are underserved because private entities such as Verizon and AT&T will not, for good business reasons, invest in the necessary infrastructure. Economic development in rural New York is suffering as a consequence.
We need government, at the federal, state or even the local level, to step in and pick up the slack. Whether it’s an analog of the federal REA or a different vehicle, if we are serious about business development in Otsego County, we need to expand broadband and cell service to rural communities.
Expanded access to broadband and cell service is not the entire answer. There is no panacea. Instead, business development in Otsego County requires action on several fronts and this is just one of them.
Lentz is a candidate for Otsego County Board of Representatives, District 5 (Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon)